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Two Rego Park Men Conspire With Russian Nationals to Hack the Taxi Dispatch System at JFK Airport: Feds

Photo; Kevin Lee/Unsplash

Dec. 21, 2022 By Christian Murray

Two Rego Park men—with the aid of Russian nationals—have been indicted for hacking into the taxi dispatch system at JFK Airport and charging drivers a fee to get to the front of the line.

Daniel Abayev, 48, and Peter Leyman, 48, have been indicted on two counts of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The pair are accused of working with Russian hackers to corrupt the Dispatch System so they could move certain taxis to the front of the line. They allegedly charged drivers $10 who wanted to avoid the long lines. The scheme went on for at least two years.

“As alleged in the indictment, these two defendants — with the help of Russian hackers — took the Port Authority for a ride,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York.  “For years, the defendants’ hacking kept honest cab drivers from being able to pick up fares at JFK in the order in which they arrived.”

Drivers are frequently required to wait several hours in a holding lot at JFK and are dispatched in approximately the order in which they arrive at the lot.

According to the charges, Abayev and Leyman explored and attempted various mechanisms to access the Dispatch System, including bribing someone to insert a flash drive containing malware into computers connected to the Dispatch System, obtaining unauthorized access to the Dispatch System via a Wi-Fi connection, and stealing computer tablets connected to the Dispatch System.

The participants in the scheme also sent messages to each other in which they explicitly discussed their intention to hack the system.  For example, on or about Nov. 10, 2019, Abayev messaged the following to one of the Russian hackers in Russian: “I know that the Pentagon is being hacked[.]. So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?]”

Taxi drivers learned that they could skip the line by paying $10 through word of mouth.

The hackers also used large group chat threads in order to communicate with taxi drivers.  For example, when the hackers had access to the Dispatch System for the day, they would post a message to the group that read “Shop open.”

Abayev and Leyman’s scheme resulted in large numbers of taxi drivers skipping the taxi line.  Over the course of the scheme, they enabled as many as 1,000 fraudulently expedited taxi trips a day.

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